Sunday, 11 December 2016

The land of mountains and a photo festival

Nepal has been a dream place for me from my childhood. First time when I studied that the highest mountain peak is not within India, I really felt sad. I had a special mental connection with hills and mountains, which I still continuing. So, I finally got a chance to visit the country where the highest peak exists, but it was not to see the Everest. It was for a different purpose.

I went Nepal to attend the ‘Photo Kathmandu’, the annual photography festival in Kathmandu. It is Nepal’s only international photo festival started from 21 October, 2016. A jam packed festival with a lot of activities including print exhibitions, projections, workshops, portfolio reviews and talks of different artist came from around the globe. It was a quite fascinating experience to enjoy the festivals as well as the overall atmosphere of Kathmandu and the old city Patan. Kathmandu and Patan are basically twine cities divided by the river ‘Bagmati’. This year the festival was hosted in Patan. So, I got a chance to experience the oldness of the Patan city and narrow alleys in and around the famous Durbar Square.  Most of the exhibitions were installed around that area. It created the excellent environment for the show altogether.

The official name of Patan is Lalitpur and the Durbar Square is situated at the heart of it, making it a major tourist destination. It is an UNESCO world heritage site. This is where the Malla King of Lalitpur resided, although there is no clear authentic history of Durbar square till date. Some chronicles hint that the history of Patan Thakuri Dynasty built a palace and made reforms to the locality but the evidence is minute. Scholars are certain that Patan was a prosperous city since ancient times. The Malla Kings did make important changes to the square. Most of the current architecture is from the 1600s, constructed during the reign of King Siddhinarasimha Malla and his son Srinivasa sukriti. Some of the notable Mallas Kings who improved the square include Purandarasimha, Sivasimha Malla and Yoganarendra Malla. Most of the ancient buildings which are the marvels of ‘Newa’ architecture were heavily damaged by the last year’s earthquake. So, a massive reconstruction and restoration activities are going on right now.

Patan is believed to have been founded in the third century BC by the Kirat dynasty and later expanded by Licchavis in the sixth century. Patan is one of three royal cities in the valley. The others are Kathmandu and Bhaktapur. It was further expanded by the Mallas during the medieval period. Several historical records including many other legends indicate that Patan is the oldest of all the cities of Kathmandu Valley. Old alleys, buildings are the main flag bearer for its rich history. Those are still evident. One can find numerous big and small temples around the old part of Patan city. It’s quite amusing to see how cars, bikes and bicycles are passing through such extremely narrow alleys. Evening and morning lights make it a fascinating place to be watch and enjoy. Some of the buildings are still on support of strong bamboo or wooden structure after the earthquake, but it does not dent anything about the spirit of this old city. These things sometime made me feel the oldness of Varanasi quite often. The city was initially designed in the shape of the Buddhist Dharma-Chakra (Wheel of Righteousness). The four thurs or mounds on the perimeter of Patan are ascribed around, one at each corner of its cardinal points, which are popularly known as Asoka Stupas. Legend has it that Emperor Asoka (the legendary King of India) visited with his daughter Charumati to Kathmandu in 250 BC and erected five Asoka Stupas, four in the surrounding and one at the middle of the Patan. The size and shape of these stupas seem to breathe their antiquity in a real sense. There are more than 1,200 Buddhist monuments of various shapes and sizes scattered in and around the city.

It’s not long ago that a devastated earth quack smashed this country including Kathmandu and Patan. But the sheer resilience of the people has brought them back in normalcy. The festival itself reflected that mental stamina. I guess that is the main reason so many photographers, editors and photo enthusiast visited this year. Photographic community in Nepal is going through a transitioning phase and this kind of initiative will help them to build it for further expansion. They are doing some excellent collaborative projects with some international universities. As a result some tremendously talented photographers are coming out and making their marks in photography world.


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